Feminine hygiene

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Choose cloth menstrual pads

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Reusable menstrual pads made of cloth will help lessen your contribution to the landfill each month. They also avoid the perils of plastic production associated with disposable pads and, if you buy unbleached, will not contain health-threatening dioxins. Go one step farther by choosing organic cloth pads and save the environment from chemical pesticide pollution too.

What to look for when choosing cloth menstrual pads

While all reusable menstrual pads will decrease the amount of trash you send to the landfill each month, these simple tips will maximize the eco-friendliness of your newly purchased pads:

  1. Go organic: The various chemicals used to treat conventional fabric materials, most of all cotton, can harm beneficial insects and soil micro-organisms, pollute ground and surface water, and adversely affect the health of humans and wildlife alike—including fish, birds, and livestock.
  2. Choose unbleached fabrics: Avoid fabrics bleached with chlorine, as chlorine bleaching is a source of dioxin. Dioxin is a known carcinogen that can also, with prolonged exposure, cause endometriosis.
  3. Find organic fabrics, or old clothes that can be reused, to make your own cloth pads: If you're strapped for cash or looking for a fun project, sew your own pads out of organic fabrics or old t-shirts or underwear. Just trace a pattern, cut it out, and sew the layers of cloth together. For more details, check out Women's Environmental Network, Labyrinth.net, orTreeHugger.com.

Find it! Cloth menstrual pads

Cloth pads aren't just earth-friendly; they're wallet-friendly, too. are designed to last for at least five years (more than 65 periods). If you estimate how much you spend on disposables per period, you can calculate the cost savings over time. Gladrags, one brand of reusable pads, estimates that if you use your reusable pads for five years (the life span they are designed to endure), you can save between $265. After seven years, your savings will be $447, based on spending about $4 a month on disposable pads.

Using cloth menstrual pads helps you go green because...

  • They reduce solid waste associated with disposable tampons and pads.
  • They avoid the production of plastics and other chemicals found in conventional pads and tampons.

In 1999, about 2.5 million tampons, 1.4 million pads, and 700,000 pantyliners were flushed down the toilet daily.[1] In the US and Canada alone, more than 12 billion pads and tampons are tossed annually. The average woman throws away between 10,000 and 15,000 tampons, pads, and applicators over her lifetime. [2]

Most of this waste is sent to landfills or incinerated. However, a good portion of it passes through sewage treatment plants, ending up in oceans, littering beaches, and harming wildlife. According to the Center for Marine Conservation, between 1998 and 1999, more than 170,000 tampon applicators were collected along American coastlines.[3] Going reusable will eliminate your contribution to these problems entirely.

Producing disposable pads produces pollution

Conventional sanitary pads are made of plastic, specifically polyethylene, and cotton. The process of producing polyethylene contributes to global warming and ozone depletion, and emits sulfur and nitrogen oxides, which can to acidification. Cotton is heavily treated with pesticides—it is estimated that cotton accounts for 11 percent of all pesticides and 24 percent of all insecticides used globally, even though it's grown on just 2.4 percent of the world’s arable land. While cloth pads may also be used for cotton, the average life span of a reusable pad is five years, significantly reducing the amount of cotton needed over time when compared to disposables.

In addition, both the cotton in tampons and the wood pulp used to make regular pads often undergoes a chlorine bleaching process, which creates dioxins. Dioxin is a known carcinogen and can seriously harm wildlife.


Debate over whether chucking disposable pads and liners causes more environmental harm than the water used for laundering reusables is age old. While little research is available to compare the eco-impact of cloth pads to disposables, an inference can be made based on the information available regarding cloth versus disposable diapers. Laundering cloth diapers at home requires 50 to 70 gallons of water every three days.[4] This is equivalent to flushing a low flow toilet 13 extra times per day. It's been estimated that manufacturing disposable diapers uses twice as much water as reusables, even when you factor in cotton growing and laundering.[5] Keep in mind that throughout the long life of your cloth menstrual pads and liners, you'll probably use them less often than a baby would diapers in the same amount of time. To be extra sure that you're getting the total environmental benefit of reusable pads, go easy on how much water you use to wash them.

Related health issues

There may be some health benefits to choosing cloth menstrual pads. Women who suffer from irritations such as vaginitis and thrush sometimes experience a worsening of symptoms around their period, usually due to exposure to synthetic products, which create a favorable breeding ground for germs. Because cloth menstrual pads are not made from any synthetic material, women have reported that they experience lessened irritation while using them. The breathability of the fabric allows for more air flow and inhibits fungal and bacteria growth that cause irritation and infection.

In addition, some women have reported that since using cloth menstrual pads they've experienced shortened periods and a reduction of PMS symptoms. However, no scientific research has been done to prove this link; evidence is anecdotal.

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